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University Hot

3225 Main St. (at Winspear)

3 pennies

"Late-night eatery"

Nestled among the quaint coffee houses and bars of Main Street's University Heights -- sandwiched in between a frame store and a tattoo parlor -- the late-night eatery University Hots is only one month old. But its adherence to the Cheap Eats philosophy makes it an instant classic. You won't believe it hasn't been around for decades.

Home of the on-average $6 College Plate, a restaurant craze as trendy as New York's make-your-own s'mores or Los Angeles' dine-in-bed joints, the servings at this eatery are enough to give all-you-can-eat a run for its money.

The idea is this: Pick one item off its Plates menu -- cheeseburger, grilled chicken, red hots, white hots, pulled pork, steak, fish fry and chicken fingers, among others -- and choose two side dishes -- macaroni salad, baked beans, home fries, French fries, curly fries, onion rings. The Undergrad, the "normal"-size plate, comes with two -- count 'em, two -- of your main item. That's right -- two cheeseburgers, two pieces of fish, two grilled cheese sandwiches.

It's all smushed into a Styrofoam container and topped with your choice of condiments. (If only Pepto Bismol were an option.) For an additional charge, a three-meat option is known as the Graduate, while a cheaper, one-meat Freshman Plate is also available.

All plate items are available a la carte and at refreshingly low prices. A hamburger is only $2.60, grilled cheese sets you back $1.85 and a delightful surprise on the no-thrills menu, a Red Osier roast beef sandwich, is only $4. What a steal!

But when you get right down to it, a visit to University Hots doesn't mean much if it isn't for the College Plate. Unfortunately, not all items leave you craving more.

While the grilled chicken breasts ($7.15, Undergrad Plate) are smoky and efficiently spiced (ask for them with grilled onions on top), the home fries are mere frozen cafeteria-style potato bits. Even Tater Tots would be a decent substitute for the real thing. The macaroni salad, too, is straight from the food service carton.

Their baked beans, however, are given a quick sizzle on the griddle, giving not so much a fried crust as a crispy flakiness. They're so good you'll want to try it for yourself at home.

Taking into consideration that the joint's best selling point is its late hours (open until 5 a.m. on the weekends, 4 a.m. during the week) and not its, um, cosmopolitan cuisine, it's good to know that such guilty pleasures are just around the corner.

University Hots opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday and is open late -- very late. Wheelchair-accessible.

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